Last weekend, I went to my first film festival. Here's what happened.
When I got the email saying my short film, Brit.i.am, had been accepted into a film festival, I was delighted but then sad that I wasn’t going to see it on the big screen. The festival was in Oklahoma and it seemed an awful long way to go to watch a five minute film. In fact, my journey there would have been 129 times longer than the actual film (yes, I just stopped to work that out. That’s how committed I am to delivering the facts, dear reader).
Entering film festivals is a lengthy and potentially expensive process which involves hours of admin. Some festivals are free but many charge a submission fee and so essentially you’re taking a punt on your film being good enough or what the festival curators are looking for. Festival entries are really an admin-heavy form of gambling and up until this point our gambling was not paying off as we’d received a heck of a lot of no’s.
They were all very polite but after a while you can sense a ‘no’ email from thirty paces. I would read three words and know which way the wind was going to blow. 'Dear filmmaker' and then I would scan the rest of the text for the word 'unfortunately'. I had no idea if Brit.i.am was suitable for festivals, if we’d entered into the right categories or even the right festivals. Many of them I’d never heard of and if it weren’t for guidance from my friend and director of the piece, Adam who'd already had work including in festival line ups, I wouldn’t have had a clue where to start. There are over 6000 film festivals worldwide from Cannes right down to Van D’or, a festival… in a van!
So when we got the nod from the Red Dirt International Film Festival, I was more than happy but for some reason decided it was frivolous to go all that way to watch a five minute film. Then I discovered we were nominated for an award. Well, of course that changed everything! Be it a 25 meters swimming badge or a film gong, who would turn down the chance to pick up an award?
I was more than a little anxious about going there alone. Where the hell was Stillwater, Oklahoma, how would I get there and would I need to watch Oklahoma! the musical as research?
Even though I came to Los Angeles alone I've always been a bit scared of solo travel. It makes me nervous and I’m not even sure why. On previous holidays, boyfriends have always taken care of the details, navigation was never my department. I've only taken a few trips by myself since then (usually to places I already know) and whilst I have gotten better at enjoying the experience, for some reason this trip still made me anxious.
I kept putting off booking and started wondering if I would ever really go but then I thought, I'm already in the States, it seems nuts not to. So I let my fingers do the talking, went online and booked a flight, hotel and car. Right then, I thought. Oklahoma City here I come... Please don’t be racist.
Fast forward six weeks and I'm on the smallest plane I've ever seen heading east like a back-tracking pioneer. The plane had two seats either side of the aisle and the rows were so closely packed that anyone over six foot would have to be a yoga master to get in them. I now understand why Americans complain about people reclining their seats. On these planes you practically have the head of the person in front of you in your lap.
The guy next to me chugged a coffee then promptly fell asleep. Hmm, I thought. I think I've been doing coffee wrong because that is not the effect it has on me.
I had a restless doze until we landed. I picked up my hire car and before long was on the open highway, the wind in my hair and the air conditioning blasting an icy breeze into my face. Luckily my phone had GPS because, like I say, map reading is not my strong suit. If I'd been on Christopher Columbus’ boat, Guernsey would now be known as the South Indies.
I tapped in Oklahoma State University where the festival was taking place and about an hour later, after long stretches of practically empty freeway, I turned into a narrow road.
The road got narrower as I approached my destination. On either side of me were vast open fields but no buildings save for a few farm shacks. I was a bit worried but trusted my GPS. If she says OSU is on Coyle Road then that’s where it must be…even if all I'd passed in the last ten minutes were prairies. I was more likely to see Laura Ingles than a sorority girl.
Besides, I was reluctant to ask for directions in case I was told to turn left at the boy with the banjo. Finally GPS chimed, "you have reached your destination!". I pulled over and looked around. Bloody hell. I hope not, I thought. Aside from the odd barn, there was nothing. It looked like I’d been airlifted onto the set of True Detective. Uh oh. I was praying that Mrs GPS had misheard me, thinking I’d asked for Oklahoma State Farming and Occult Murder Academy. I googled OSC and fortunately found a new address, praying this wouldn’t take me into some Deliverance-type situation but the place I actually needed to get to. Before long, I was back on the main roads heading into Stillwater. Not, of course, before I'd passed a pile of snake on the side of the road. Oklahoma clearly has a classier type of roadkill, one that you can make a nice handbag out of.
In hindsight, I’m glad I got that detour because I saw that Oklahoma is very beautiful and much more luscious than Los Angeles, which isn't hard considering its essential a city dropped in the middle of a desert. I also saw where the festival got its name. The earth is a hearty, browny, red colour. It looks so fertile and full of goodness that if you ate food grown here, you’d immediately acquire super powers.
Finally, I arrived. The university was stunning. The college I’d gone to was tiny so to be on the grounds of such a vast intuition was impressive. OSU has several sites and a lot more facilities than the place I went to. They had a huge library, a student union the size of some council offices and their own stadium. The closest my college came to having a stadium was a ping pong table at the SU bar.
I immediately got stuck into the festival and went to watch some short films (I also wanted to check out the competition, of course).
After, I headed out to a local restaurant for dinner. It was a largely uneventful meal although I was tickled by the fact that when I asked for the wine list I was told “We’ve run out of our wine”. “No worries”, I said. “I’ll have a beer”. When in Rome.
The following day, in the back of my mind, I knew the awards ceremony was at nine that evening. It was wonderful to be nominated but you can’t help entertaining the idea of winning. Just in case, I did a trial run of my ‘I’m happy for you’ face in case another film won. Broad smile, gritted teeth, big clapping. Perfect.
Brit.i.am screened in the morning and after there was a Q and A. I was very proud to be talking about the film and so pleased people were interested in asking questions. The only downside was, the air-conditioning in the room was set to artic so I was shivering throughout the whole thing. I looked like a proud Chihuahua.
Eventually the evening came around and everyone filed into the main room. It was well-attended and there was an air of excitement in the room. This was to be the close of this small film festival and it was exciting.
The room was getting packed with only a few empty seats dotted around. An older gentleman politely asked if the seat by me was taken. Not at all, I said. Unbeknownst to him I had been practically willing him to sit there because he was Grey Frederickson, producer of the Godfather and Apocalypse Now. 'No it's empty. Please sit!' I said, in an overly-friendly way. What I should have said was, “I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse”.
The experimental film category which Brit.i.am was in was third to be announced.
"And the winner is..." said the host and just as she was about to name the film, a film maker who'd been in the bathroom when his category was announced, walked in. The room erupted because they knew he'd won an award and he didn't. Rightly so, the host playful did a repeat performance of the category’s announcement and needless to say, the filmmaker was delighted. The room erupting once again with laughter and applause.
And so back to best experimental film and the winner was Brit.i.am.
I was beyond delighted.
The organisers of the festival had been so supportive of the film not only in selecting it for their festival but in encouraging people to come and see it.
After picking up the award and posing for photos I sat back down as Grey leaned in. 'Congratulations', he whispered. 'Thank you!' I whispered back. Unreal, I thought.
I had such a great time and even if we hadn’t picked up our award, it was still very much worth the journey in so many ways. I met great people, I attended my first film festival, I saw a beautiful part of the country and the award was the additional, shiny icing on the cake that made it even more worthwhile.
This post is dedicated to the wonderful contributors and crew that made Brit.i.am possible and to my good friend Adam who directed and edited Brit.i.am and created this little gem of a film.
Other posts you may enjoy: An interview with Gary Goldstein - I speak with the producer of Pretty Woman, Fight For Your Writes - a post on writing and Loving Lupita - posted following Lupita N'yongo's oscar win.